In 2007, Donna L. Lillian, Assistant Professor of Discourse and Linguistics in the Department of English at East Carolina University, wrote a paper entitled: A thorn by any other name: sexist discourse as hate speech, which centered around the Reform Party, our neoconservative movement, and William D. Gairdner.
The relationship between Stephen Harper and Gairdner is long and deep.
Both are founding Reform Party members and also instrumental in the creation of The Northern Foundation: "... established in 1989, originally as a pro-South Africa group . . . [n favour of continued Apartheid]. Since its establishment, however, the foundation has developed into a broad coalition of right-wing groups and individuals across the country’ lists among the founding members of the Foundation both William Gairdner and Stephen Harper. (1)
Gairdner is also former chair of the National Citizens’ Coalition, where Stephen Harper spent three decades, eventually acting as both VP and President; and founding president of the Civitas Society, one of the policy arms of the Harper government.
And Gairdner gave the keynote address at the Reform Party's 1991 General Assembly: ‘delegates to the 1991 Saskatoon convention gave William Gairdner enormous applause, even more than Manning later received, for his vitriolic speech denouncing feminists, bilingualism, and multiculturalism, among other things’(1)
Murray Dobbin who was at the event noted "the frequent and extended applause and the cheers that greeted Gairdner’s denunciation of women and women’s rights." Gairdner has been identified as one the most influential core members of Reform and as their party mentor (1), and his book The Trouble with Canada, functioned as ‘the de facto manifesto for Preston Manning’s Reform Party’ (2).
The premise of Lillian's thesis was to analyze "Canadian neoconservative discourse as racist, sexist, and homophobic."
In arguing that at least some sexist discourse should be considered hate speech, I first demonstrate that the popular discourse of Canadian neoconservative author William D. Gairdner is sexist.... Sexism, the ideology and practice of relegating women to a lower rung on the social hierarchy than men simply by virtue of their femaleness, is an integral component of neoconservative thinking, and one way that such sexism is produced and reproduced is through language"Now we might say that the Reform Party was established more than 20 years ago, so the party [now called The Conservative Party of Canada] may not hold the same views today. However, in the five years that Stephen Harper has held power, the evidence is overwhelming, that he is carrying out the mandate of Gairdner, Reform, the NCC and the NF, when it comes to women's rights and their intended role in society.
For example, women who choose roles other than that of full-time stay-at-home wife and mother and especially those who actively seek to create conditions in which women who choose other roles are not discriminated against are the women dubbed ‘radical feminists’ by Gairdner and they are purported to be the instruments of the breakdown of so-called traditional values in Canadian society.
Gairdner classifies as feminist a wide range of women including those who advocate publicly funded day care for children, abortion rights, ready access to contraceptives, sex education in schools, affirmative action for women, equal pay for work of equal value, marriage and adoption rights for gay and lesbian couples, as well as those who resist patriarchy in any other way. The only women whom he does not label feminists are women who support his patriarchal vision in which a woman marries young, bears and raises several children, and occupies herself doing unpaid domestic and volunteer work. Of course, if such a woman were to use her time volunteering for a group promoting any of the causes he disagrees with, then she, too, might be labeled a feminist according to Gairdner’s use of the term.
In March of 2009:
Representatives of women’s groups and labour unions gathered at the United Nations yesterday, to announce that they will be filing a complaint against the Harper government with the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The complaint condemns the Canadian government for rushing controversial pay equity legislation through Parliament, which will make it extremely difficult for women in the federal public sector to demand equal pay for work of equal value. —Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), “Women launch complaint against Harper government for destroying the right to pay equity,” news release, March 6, 2009 (3)Can you imagine, after all of our strides, though still with a long way to go, Canadian women were forced to lobby the United Nations for the return of rights we had already fought so hard to acquire?
In June of 2010, Gerald Caplan asked:
"Are you old-fashioned? Do you still believe in gender equality? Do you intend to promote gender equality? Do you believe a woman should be able to have an abortion if she chooses to?"And in his discussion he reminds us that the attack on these fundamental things is no idle threat.
It's already happened to a large number of groups supporting women's equality. International Planned Parenthood has heard nothing for a year about renewed funding. Match International, the only international development organization devoted specifically to women's equality, has been cut off. CIDA has cut funds to projects in Pakistan and Kenya that were explicitly dedicated to gender equality. In fact, hard as it is it believe, CIDA staff have told NGOs to remove the words "gender equality" from their proposal if they want a chance at funding.And more recently, Harper's Family tax plan excludes single parents.
In his book, Rogue in Power, Christian Nadeau also discusses the erosion of womens rights under Harper.
Back in September 2006, the government announced major reforms in the operation of Status of Women Canada. This federal body's budget was cut by about 40 per cent, and nearly all its regional offices were closed, supposedly as a rationalization measure. At the same time, Bev Oda, the minister in charge, made drastic cuts in the financial assistance provided for researching women's social struggles. Thus, many human rights organizations were left bereft of financial means.Are we as citizens ready to reverse the movement by about 50 years? Will we have to march again?
Women's groups continue to be among the primary targets of budgetary restraints imposed by the government on civil society organizations. Some examples of groups that have experienced recent cuts include the New Brunswick coalition for pay equity, Quebec's Conseil d'intervention pour Faeces des femmes au travail (a council that advocates on behalf of women in the workplace), the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation, Action travail des femmes du Quebec (a nonprofit group that works to help women access jobs), the Reseau des tables regionales de groupes de femmes du Quebec (a network of regional roundtables made up of Quebec women's groups), and the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women. All these organizations expressed indignation at these unjustified cuts, but their statements were scarcely acknowledged by Rona Ambrose, the new Minister of State for the Status of Women, who seemed to have other fish to fry.
In the area of pay equity, the Harper government has also shown what it is capable of, especially in relation to public service employees. In 2009, the House of Commons gave third reading to the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act, contained in Bill C-10, the Budget Implementation Act. The text of the law, a door-stopper more than five hundred pages long, obstructs women's right to demand wage equality with men for work of equal value. It takes away the right to submit pay equity complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Finance Minister Flaherty stated that he wanted to end a system of "double pay equity" and said the collective bargaining framework was adequate for dealing with this issue. In other words, employers were relieved of a responsibility ... Briefly stated, without declaring that it is openly antifeminist, the Harper government has done plenty to block the movement for equality in relations between men and women. Without institutional' guarantees for this social struggle, it is easy for Harper to state his commitment towards women while contradicting it on a daily basis in his policies. (4)
And remember that under Harper, protesters are not welcome, as those at the G-20 and Save the Prison Farms campaign, learned. Riot police appear to be on constant standby. In Kingston those abused and arrested ranged from a 14-year-old girl to an 88-year-old woman. The message is clear. If you go against this government you will be dealt with.
Are we really prepared for this?
1. Preston Manning and the Reform Party, By Murray Dobbin, Goodread Biographies/Formac Publishing, 1992, ISBN: 0-88780-161-7 4
2. Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada, By Trevor Harrison, University of Toronto Press, 1995. ISBN: 0-8020-7204-6
3. HARPER PLANS TO WIN MAJORITY USING WOMEN VOTERS: A Brief Chronological Account of the Erosion of Women’s Rights Under the Tories, By Rolf Auer, March 28, 2011
4. Rogue in Power: Why Stephen Harper is remaking Canada by Stealth, By Christian Nadeau, Lorimer Press, 2010, ISBN: 978-1-55277-730-5